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Will 2020 be the warmest year on record? Early signs are suggesting that it might be - e.g. May was the warmest May globally, and the forecast is for a hotter than average summer. As month after month breaks temperature records, the question is - at what point will certain areas of the US (and other parts of the world) become unbearable? What can humans tolerate?

Temperatures are inching towards 120 degrees F in the summer in southwest United States, and higher elsewhere in the world. This is incredibly high! [For comparison, at 133 degrees Fahrenheit the coronavirus Covid-19 is killed off after 15 minutes.] While it varies for each species, the general rule for organisms is: "Above a certain temperature, a cell will collapse and die."

A Scientific American article wrote about humans: "So how does heat kill? When core body temperature rises too high, everything breaks down: The gut leaks toxins into the body, cells begin to die, and a devastating inflammatory response can occur."

There are stages to how the body responds: First heat exhaustion occurs. This can be reversed by moving the person to a cool location, loosening clothing, and applying cool, wet wash clothes to the body. But if the person does't get cooled off, then it advances to heat stroke. This is where their core body temperature rises above 104 degrees F (40 degrees C). Heat stroke can trigger seizures, convulsions, coma, and even death.

Another important point: humans can tolerate higher heat if the humidity is low. People cool off by sweating, and if the humidity is high, they can't. So keep all these things in mind when contemplating rising summer heat spells. What will humans eventually do as temperatures keep going up year after year? Mass migrations? Try to cope somehow?

Excerpts from Science News For Students: Explainer: How heat kills

The human body can’t handle excessive heat. The processes that keep us alive work best within a certain temperature window. That’s generally between about 36° and 37° Celsius (96.8° to 98.6° Fahrenheit), depending on the person.  ...continue reading "How Hot Is Too Hot For Humans?"

It turns out that it rains tons and tons of tiny pieces of plastic each year! These tiny pieces of plastic, called microplastics, are carried like dust in the wind and  air currents around the earth, and eventually come down like dust. Or particles from nearby urban areas can come down in rain, storms, and snow.

Researchers from a study looking at dust and rainwater samples in 11 western United States parks estimate that more than 1000 tons of this stuff fall each year just on this area alone. They estimate that 4% of the dust deposited on the land had microplastics in them, and nearly all samples had microplastics in them. The researchers found that an average of "132 plastics per square meter" was deposited each day. Yikes!

Where does it come from? Most of the microparticles were microfibers that came from synthetic textiles used for clothing (shed when worn or from washing, drying) and carpeting. But also industrial processes, outdoor equipment, industrial paints and coatings). Since plastics are persistant, they break up into little pieces over time and become microplastics.

Which means tons and tons more of these microplastics are falling on the rest of the United States and world, including us. How much are we breathing in? And what, if anything, is it doing to us?

So far studies have found microplastics in foods, drinking water, estimates of humans ingesting more than 74,000 microplastics each year, that we are breathing them in, and that they are found in human stool . Also, it is known that microplastics can accumulate and harm wildlife, and can move up the food chain.

It doesn't look good for us as plastic production (348 million metric tons of plastic produced worldwide in 2017) and plastics in the environment keep increasing. We need to address this problem. Now.

Excerpts from a good article on this study: A threat from above: Plastic rains down on US National Parks and Wilderness areas

Last August, scientists delivered the chilling news that microplastics suspended in the Earth's atmosphere were being deposited in remote areas of the Arctic and Europe. Now researchers report similar microplastic accumulation in iconic American protected areas including the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree.  ...continue reading "It’s Raining Microplastics"

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day!

The very first Earth Day was a nationwide rally held back in April 22, 1970 to raise awareness of threats to the environment. Later that year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established, and soon after that important environmental laws were passed, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

And here we are 50 years later. With many environmental laws being dismantled. The crisis of climate change. And the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

This is our earth. Our only earth. Let's treasure it and take care of it.

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Have you recently lost your sense of taste or smell? Then you may be infected with the coronavirus COVID-19, even if you don't display any other symptoms.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) posted on its web-site that loss of a sense of smell (anosmia) and loss of a sense of taste (dysgeusia) are both symptoms of  COVID-19. Even if there are no other symptoms of COVID-19 - meaning it's a mild case, but it is still infectious and can be spread to others. Reports from South Korea are that about 30% of patients and from Germany that more than half of patients experience this.

It doesn't seem to matter how sick you are, or whether you are congested or not. Nothing seems to help - not nose drops or sprays.  Persons regain their sense of smell and/or taste after a few days or weeks.

It is suggested that loss of sense of smell could be used as a COVID-19 screening tool. Excerpt from the UK ENT group statement posted on the AAO-HNS web-site...continue reading "Loss Of Sense of Smell Or Taste May Indicate You Have Covid-19"

Chemicals of all sorts are frequently discussed on this site, especially those causing harmful health effects (e.g.pesticides, flame retardants). Developed countries depend on all sorts of chemicals and "chemical technologies", and they are present in most manufactured products. But how many chemicals manufactured by the chemical industry are actually out there? What do we know about them?

Around the year 2000 it was estimated that there were about 100,000 chemicals, but this was just looking at the United States, Canada, and Europe. Now a new estimate, looking at countries throughout the world, found about 350,000 chemicals and mixtures of chemicals that are registered for production and use.

Very little is known about about health or environmental effects of many (most) of them. Some estimate that about 3% of chemicals might be of "concern" (e.g. serious health effects), but that means about 6000 chemicals! Harm (adverse effects) to humans and ecosystems is called "chemical pollution".

The international team of researchers were concerned with one one of their findings: that the identities of many chemicals remain publicly unknown because they are claimed as confidential (over 50,000 chemicals) or they are "ambiguously described" with missing details (up to 70,000). So only the manufacturers know if or how dangerous the chemicals are. Yikes!

From Futurity: The Worlds 'Chemical Diversity' Tripled in Just Twenty Years  ...continue reading "Little Is Known About Health Effects Of 350,000 Chemicals Now In Use"

Many, many women experience weight gain after menopause, with many experiencing "belly rolls" for the first time in their life. All women say that it is especially hard to lose weight after menopause, even though there are many health reasons to do so (e.g. postmenopausal weight gain is a cause of breast cancer).

A recent large study of women over the age of 50 (following them for 10 years) may offer extra inducement to try for weight loss. The main finding of the research was that weight loss after the age of 50, and especially if the weight is kept off, is linked to a lower risk of breast cancer.

The researchers found that the lower rates of breast cancer is linear - meaning the more weight is lost and kept off, the lower the risk of breast cancer. And even if some (but not all ) is gained back, they were still at a lower risk of breast cancer than a woman whose weight stays stable after 50. These findings of a lower risk apply to women who were not using postmenopausal hormones.

The lowest risk of breast cancer (32% lower) was in women who lost at least 20 pounds (9kg) or more, kept it off, and were not taking post-menopausal hormones - when compared to women who stayed at a stable weight after 50. The researchers said that the results were particularly striking for obese and overweight women.

It is thought that these good results occur because weight loss in postmenopausal women results in lower levels of sex hormone concentrations, as well as C-reactive protein, Interleukin 6, tumor necrosis factor alpha, insulin-like growth factor 1, and insulin-like growth factor binding protein.

In other words, even if you are over 50 and overweight - it is not too late to lose weight and lower your risk of breast cancer! View it as breast cancer prevention.

From Science Daily: Large study links sustained weight loss to reduced breast cancer risk  ...continue reading "Weight Loss After Age 50 Really Lowers Risk of Breast Cancer"

For years it has been known that eating foods with artificial trans fats has serious health effects. It has been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, inflammation, and risk of early death, diabetes, and poorer memory in middle-aged men. Now the results of a study, which followed 1628 older residents of a Japanese community for a decade, found that we can add dementia and Alzheimer's disease to this list.

The researchers measured blood levels of elaidic acid, which is a biomarker for artificial (industrial) trans fats. Those persons in the groups with the highest levels of elaidic acid had higher levels of dementia and Alzheimer's disease after a decade (a linear association - the higher the levels, the higher the incidence), but there was no association with vascular dementia.

The researchers found that eating sweet pastries, margarine, sugar confections (e.g. candy, caramels, chewing gum), croissants, nondairy creamers, ice cream, and rice crackers were all the strongest predictors of having higher serum elaidic levels in this study. [Notice that margarine, which for years was considered "healthy", is now considered "unhealthy" because of its trans fats.]

The FDA banned the use of trans fats in foods starting June 2018, but there is a big loophole, a really big loophole. Foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats are allowed to be labeled as ZERO grams of trans fats, because they are allowing the companies to round downward. So if a person eats a number of foods per day containing these "minimal" amounts, they add up. And in this way one can wind up with pretty high levels in the blood. [By the way, some countries still allow trans fats. Also, read the interesting story of the man behind the U.S. ban.]

Where are trans fats still found? Trans fats are found in partially hydrogenated oils, as well as in other types of refined oils, monoglycerides, diglycerides and other emulsifiers, and even in flavors and colors. They are found in a lot of processed food (e.g. baked goods, vegetable shortening, vegetable oils, whipped toppings), so read ingredient labels carefully and avoid them. As usual, best are real whole foods . If you see something that you don't routinely have and cook with in your kitchen, then avoid that ingredient. For example, do you have monoglycerides in your kitchen? NO? Then it's an ingredient to avoid.

From Medscape: Trans Fats Tied to Increased Dementia Risk  ...continue reading "Trans Fats and Dementia"

Years ago I would see large flocks of birds in my yard - all sorts of songbirds and up to 40 robins at once. Year by year the numbers slowly started diminishing and this year there was only 1 lonely robin, no chickadees, no titmice, and no sparrows. A recent study documents that same finding, that bird species are in serious trouble and their numbers are in free fall in the US and Canada. About 3 billion birds or a 29% decline since 1970! This decline in bird numbers includes common "backyard" bird species such as sparrows. Yup, this confirms what I am seeing.

Similarly, recent studies found that there are tremendous declines in the numbers of insects, including bees and butterflies. Yup, this is also what I am seeing in my yard - only a few butterflies (and no monarch butterflies), and hardly any bees. All these declines are an indicator of environmental health and it is not good.

What can one do? For starters, we need the elimination of lawn pesticides in suburban areas, more insect-friendly flowers and plants, more milkweed (for monarchbutterflies), and fewer pesticides used by farmers, communities, on the sides of highways, etc. Pesticides kill. Think of it this way: Pesticides can give you and your pets cancer and other health problems, but weeds (wildflowers) can't.  [One example: Years ago I sent in a dead bird (1 of many that I was finding) to be analyzed by a wildlife pathologist, and he found that it had died of pesticide poisoning.] Ban or don't use lead bullets (bird lead poisoning). Also, do all you can to preserve open space - to be kept as park lands protected from development.

Excerpts from Science Daily: US and Canada have lost more than 1 in 4 birds in the past 50 years

A study published today in the journal Science reveals that since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds, signaling a widespread ecological crisis. The results show tremendous losses across diverse groups of birds and habitats -- from iconic songsters such as meadowlarks to long-distance migrants such as swallows and backyard birds including sparrows ...continue reading "Have You Noticed Fewer Birds In Your Neighborhood?"